Charismatic renewal movement turns 50

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement this year, Pope Francis has invited members to St. Peter’s Square for Pentecost. During the golden jubilee of the renewal, which takes place May 31-June 4 in Rome, Pope Francis will be present on June 3 for a gathering in Circus Maximus.

When he extended the invitation on June 1, 2014, the pope addressed more than 50,000 Catholic charismatics in Rome’s Olympic Stadium. At that time, the pope admitted his impression of them in the early years in Buenos Aires had been that they were akin to “a samba school.” However, he said he has come to see that the movement offers “a current of grace in the Church and for the Church,” which, he added, “is a great force meant to serve the preaching of the Gospel in the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is the largest approved ecclesial movement of the Church, estimated to have touched at least 120 million Catholics throughout the world. It is fully Catholic and also fully charismatic, with emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus and the gifts of the Holy Spirit as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, including the gift of tongues, healing and prophecy.

Spirit invoked

Patti Gallagher Mansfield, author of “As By a New Pentecost” (Amor Deus, $15.95), told Our Sunday Visitor that it all began in the spring of 1966. Two professors at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh were praying daily for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives using the Sequence Prayer for Pentecost. During this time, they came across two books: “The Cross and the Switchblade” (Berkley, $7.99) — the story of a minister led by the Spirit to work with drug addicts in New York City — and “They Speak with Other Tongues” (Chosen Books, $14.99). Both books talk about being baptized in the Holy Spirit.

The two professors planned a retreat weekend and asked students to pray in preparation and also to read the first four chapters of the Acts of the Apostles and the book “The Cross and the Switchblade.”

On Friday, Feb. 17, 1967, about 25 students arrived for the retreat that included singing Veni Creator Spiritus (“Come Creator Spirit”), a meditation on Mary, a penance service and a talk on Acts 2. On Saturday evening, Mansfield stopped into the chapel and prayed a prayer of surrender. “In the next moment, I found myself prostrate, flat on my face, and immersed in the love of God, a love that is totally undeserved, yet lavishly given,” she said. “I ran down to tell our chaplain.”

Another student, David Mangan, who had been in the chapel before Mansfield, reported the same experience. Within the next hour, many of the students went into the chapel to pray and had the same inspiring experience referred to as being “baptized in the Spirit.”

According to Mansfield, the “Duquesne Weekend” resulted in forming prayer groups that quickly spread across the country. At the first Catholic Charismatic Conference that Mansfield attended in the fall of 1967, about 50 attended. Six years later, in May 1973, the conference was held in the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium with 30,000 participants.

“We were witnesses to the birth of a movement through the Holy Spirit,” Mansfield said. “It was not our idea to reach millions of Catholics around the world to renew their baptism and confirmation.” At 70 years old, she remains active in the movement, often giving talks at retreats and conferences. She encourages people to pray to be baptized in the Spirit to stir up the graces already present from baptism and confirmation, as well as a new coming of the Holy Spirit. Mansfield explained that Pope Francis has stressed that baptism of the Spirit is also an ecumenical grace experienced across denominational lines.

Borders crossed

Henry Dieterich, a retired professor of medieval history, has been a part of a charismatic community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, since 1970. He belongs to Christ the King Church, a charismatic parish that grew up from a prayer group and has his bishop’s permission for the congregation to pray in tongues at two designated times during the Mass.

Dieterich explained, “It was a movement within the Church from the beginning, but there are good Catholics who are not charismatic and charismatics within both the Catholic and Protestant churches.” From the beginning, he said the movement has had a lot of ecumenical aspects to it. “There are interdenominational prayer groups as well as exclusively Catholic ones.”

According to Dieterich, the movement doesn’t have much in the way of structure, but has some organization. “Every Catholic diocese is encouraged to have a liaison to the bishop on behalf of Charismatic Renewal.” A National Service Committee for each country offers support and organizes conferences and resources.

“In Rome, there are two groups that communicate to the Vatican,” he said. “One is the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, made up of delegates from throughout the world, and the other is the Catholic Fraternity, an association of various Catholic Charismatic Communities around the world.”

Another member of Christ the King Church in Ann Arbor is Dr. Ralph Martin, a professor and the director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He is also the president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. Martin was a pioneer in the early stages of growth and development of the movement.

“The Charismatic Renewal Movement has been a witness in the Church as to how much the Holy Spirit wants to do for people,” he said. “It’s a current of grace that can enliven everything going on in the Church. The Holy Spirit is not the property of a particular movement.”

Martin acknowledged that not everyone is comfortable with some of the characteristics associated with the movement, such as raising hands while praying, speaking in tongues and prophesying. “It does have its own style, but it can be expressed with any kind of music or adoration,” he said. “Everyone needs more of the Holy Spirit, and that’s the essence of what is going on.” He recommended the DVD “As By a New Pentecost” as an effort to make the Charismatic Renewal accessible to outsiders.

Movement comes of age

“The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has not been without controversy,” Mansfield said. “Sometimes there were poorly formed Catholics who did not integrate their charismatic experience with the Church. But what characterized the renewal from the beginning was loyalty to the Church, as evidenced by the approval of the last four popes.”

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According to Colin Donovan, vice president for theology at the Eternal Word Television Network, the Catholic charismatic movement has matured from the early days. “The pioneers in the movement have been proactive in going to the Church to get affirmation for what is done,” he said. “That maturity doesn’t mean there might still not be people faking gifts, but we have tools of discernment to look for evidence that they really do have the gifts they claim to have.”

Donovan said he sees that reform within the movement is ongoing just as it is an ongoing activity within the Church as a whole.

“An authentically Catholic movement should lead you to Our Lady and the pope,” he said. “That wasn’t always there in the beginning for everyone, but it is now.”

Donovan also pointed out that many very fruitful apostolates and leaders in the Church have a relationship with the Charismatic renewal. “The spiritual life is all about surrender,” he said, “and surrendering to the Holy Spirit is going to bear good fruits.”

Patti Maguire Armstrong writes from North Dakota.